NPR : Tell Me More

A Child Of The Slums Becomes A 'Queen' Of Chess

Play associated audio

Phiona Mutesi is a teenager living in Katwe, the biggest and possibly toughest slum in Uganda's capital city. She's also a rising star in competitive chess.

Her story is told in the book The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster.

But when she first started the game, Mutesi wasn't hungry for glory; she was just hungry. A local chapter of a Christian charity hosted a chess program, and it lured Mutesi, her brother and other children with the promise of a meal.

"Our family didn't have money, and we were yearning to get some food. We didn't have food at home," she tells NPR's Michel Martin. "My brother knew about chess, and he could go to the chess program to get a cup of porridge."

The kids in Katende's chess group were all struggling. "Almost 97 percent of the children don't go to school at all," says Mutesi's coach and mentor, Robert Katende. "When you're in a survival situation, the parents or guardians have to choose whether to waste their money on education or to find a way to feed the family."

Mutesi herself had never seen or heard of chess. There isn't even a word for it in her native language. But Katende says she was a natural talent. "She has a special — I call it — a gene." He also acknowledges that her difficult life in Katwe helped develop Mutesi's competitive streak. "I notice that she's very aggressive, because, you know, it's like, when you're determined."

Despite these obstacles, after this year's Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey, Mutesi qualified for an official World Chess Federation title: Woman Candidate Master.

Katende says Mutesi's success is an inspiration for everyone around her. "She's really transformed her entire family, because they have come to realize that they can make it in life, they have gained hope," he says. "So many children are now coming on the program, and they're optimistic that maybe one day they can also get out of the slum."

Mutesi says her dream is to conquer the world of chess and then make the world better for her community. "I want to be a grandmaster," she says, "and I want to be a doctor so I can help my family — and I want to help slum kids."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

A Glimpse Of Listeners' #NPRpoetry — From The Punny To The Profound

It was a simple idea: Would you, our listeners, tweet us poems for National Poetry Month? Your response contained multitudes — haiku, lyrics, even one 8-year-old's ode to her dad's bald spot.
WAMU 88.5

Eating Insects: The Argument For Adding Bugs To Our Diet

Some say eating insects could save the planet, as we face the potential for global food and protein shortages. It's a common practice in many parts of the world, but what would it take to make bugs more appetizing to the masses here in the U.S.? Does it even make sense to try? A look at the arguments for and against the practice known as entomophagy, and the cultural and environmental issues involved.

WAMU 88.5

A Federal Official Shakes Up Metro's Board

After another smoke incident and ongoing single tracking delays for fixes, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced a shake-up of Metro's board.

NPR

'The Guardian' Launches New Series Examining Online Abuse

A video was released this week where female sports journalists were read abusive online comments to their face. It's an issue that reaches far beyond that group, and The Guardian is taking it on in a series called "The Web We Want." NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with series editor Becky Gardiner and writer Nesrine Malik, who receives a lot of online abuse.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.